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Meet the Fellows: Anthony DiMartino

December 4, 2014
Zoe Schein

Recently, we spoke with Anthony DiMartino, an administrative analyst in the Development Services Department for the City of Long Beach. Anthonyis a fellow in NJJN's Youth Justice Leadership Institute, a year-long program that aims to create a more effective foundation for the juvenile justice reform movement by developing a strong base of well-trained and well-prepared advocates and organizers who reflect the communities most affected by juvenile justice system practices and policies.

What motivates you to work in juvenile justice reform?

I think it starts with my passion for helping others, and that starts with my upbringing. I was brought up to make sure everyone is treated fairly, has equal opportunities, and has love in their life. That comes from my family support system. Growing up I had a lot of opportunities to be successful and I was sheltered from things that could have led me down a different path. Some of that is because of my own willingness to work hard and listen to my parents, in addition to my family looking out for me, and always preaching to do the right thing.

It wasn’t until college that I began working in juvenile justice. That started with going into juvenile halls. Specifically, I saw how many of the youth looked like me. Though my upbringing of opportunity and some privilege didn’t completely match with many of the youth in there, we had similar ways of looking at systems, and it struck me how one choice here or there could’ve sent me down a similar path. But I was protected from having to make some of those decisions, situations that could have landed me in juvenile halls.

Hearing their stories and seeing our similarities, knowing that decisions that could have been out of my control could have sent me in that direction -- that led me to want to work to make sure that youth across the country have those opportunities and some control over their futures. I struggle with how punitive our system is. It’s important to me to make sure that there are some consequences for behavior, but we should be doing everything in our power to support and rehabilitate these youth, and ensure that they have opportunities to have love and support, to be successful and to thrive.

Fellows in the Institute are expected to complete a year-long advocacy project. Can you tell me about your project?

My project has shifted quite a bit from what I initially proposed—it’s really still in flux. At this point, my project is to complement a grant we received at the city—we were designated as a National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention Plan city. Part of this designation is a yearlong planning process to create a violence prevention plan specific to youth violence. The City currently has a comprehensive violence prevention plan that looks to stop violence in the school systems, communities, and families, but not a plan specific to youth violence as a whole.

For my project, I want to take a specific look at youth involved in the juvenile justice system and then make recommendations to the new plan based on literature reviews, qualitative interviews, and quantitative data analysis for Long Beach and LA counties. I’m hoping that will teach us something about how we can better serve youth and families affected by the juvenile justice system and by violence.

The project will involve a lot of picking partners’ brains, finding out what they’ve seen that has worked, what could be improved, what research can tell us and what those who’ve experienced the system can tell us. I enjoy being out and talking with people, building relationships, communicating about people’s stories. I enjoy the stories even though they’re heartbreaking at times. It’s a great way to connect and build a foundation for change.

Why do you think the Youth Justice Leadership Institute important? What do you think its role is in a larger juvenile justice reform movement?

So far the Institute has been a great experience. The individuals I’ve met are awe-inspiring. I don’t work specifically in juvenile justice, but I work in a lot of things that touch juvenile justice. That’s what drew me to this institute: I wanted to be grounded in juvenile justice reform work. The Institute provided me the opportunity to be grounded with others doing this work, to access resources and mentors, and it’s amazing.

For me, just being in that space with passionate and caring individuals with such a strong knowledge and basis of experience, it’s very inspiring and gives me hope for this work. Doing any work with violence, heartbreak and tragedy can take a toll on you at times. But I think the Institute isn’t just preparing us to be leaders, but giving us support networks to carry into this work. Especially in places where you don’t see as many people of color, to be developing a set of leaders to create change and reform for years to come is impressive and needed, and that support system is also key to sustaining the work that we want to do.

So it’s twofold. You’re developing leaders, but you’re also training mentors and friends, you’re providing that to each other also. I’m grateful for this opportunity and support, and I look forward to doing this work and maintaining the lifelong relationships I’m hoping to establish with people in my [Institute] cohort. I’m grateful for the work that everyone does and how that helps to shape me on a daily basis.


What do you do when you’re not advocating for youth justice reform?

I’m a big family and friends person. I enjoy spending time with people, just talking, hearing stories, and sharing my story. It’s a way to get energy, learn about myself, and learn about the world. You never know when you might make a connection with someone else based off a story you’ve heard, and that’s a great thing—to be able to relate to another human.

I’m also always trying to read on many topics. Not just juvenile justice. I love to read about intersectionality, and I like to know what’s going on in the world at large. I know that everything influences everything else and it’s key to understand that—we don’t live in a vacuum. Right now I’m passionate about the culture of masculinity and violence. I try to be the best young man I can be. That’s always on my mind. So I’m always reading about how other issues intertwine with one another, trying to see that bigger, more complex picture.

 

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